CHICAGO — Sidney City Councilmember Mike Barhorst traveled to Chicago on Sept. 29 to attend and speak at a reception for outgoing Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Chicago Chief Executive Director Ralph Inforzato. Inforzato, whose 12-state area of responsibility in addition to Ohio includes the states of Indiana, Illinois Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin, has been a frequent visitor to Sidney.
“I was pleased to be invited to attend the reception and speak on behalf of Ohio’s municipalities,” Barhorst stated. “Over the years, I have developed a close working relationship with Ralph, who has served in JETRO’s Chicago office for 38 years.”
“Fortunately, I expect to continue working with him,” Barhorst stated. “JETRO is wisely not allowing him to fully retire. He will continue working as senior advisor to JETRO’s six regional offices in the United States.”
The reception was the first time Barhorst had met the new executive director of JETRO Chicago, Hiroyuki Nemoto. Nemoto was recently transferred to the United States from JETRO’s office in Osaka, Japan.
Osaka is JETRO’s second largest office, surpassed only by the Tokyo office. Osaka is Chicago’s Sister-City.
“I served as a member of Sidney’s City Council from 1977 until 1989,” Barhorst said in his prepared remarks. “I served as vice mayor and then mayor eight of those 12 years.”
“When I was first elected to office, Sidney had the highest per capita unemployment rate in the State of Ohio,” Barhorst told the standing-room only audience. “When I left office 12 years later, Sidney had the lowest per capita unemployment rate in Ohio.”
“Japan played a key role in that turnaround,” Barhorst said. “When Honda broke ground in nearby Anna, Ohio in 1984, we were at first disappointed that they did not locate in Sidney. But very quickly we realized that several of their suppliers were going to locate in Sidney.”
“NKParts, Advanced Composites, Hexa Americas and Sankyo America decided to locate facilities in Sidney,” Barhorst said. “That certainly attracted other investment, and when I left office in 1989, Sidney had the lowest per capita unemployment rate in the State of Ohio – a most remarkable turnaround”
“Today, in addition to our own workforce, more than 11,000 people come into Sidney every day to fill available jobs,” Barhorst said. “In fact, Sidney has more manufacturing jobs per capita than any other municipality in Ohio.”
“In 2019, I served as president of the Ohio Municipal League and in 2021, served as president of the Mayors Association of Ohio,” Barhorst told the assembly. “I continue to represent both organizations as I travel the state promoting good municipal government, and during every stop, I always mention the Japan External Trade Organization.”
“You might ask why I do that and the answer is simple. I’ve witnessed first-hand how Japanese investment has impacted local communities in Ohio!” Barhorst said. “I very much appreciate the cultural richness that Japanese companies bring to our community . Those companies have become a part of the fabric of life, contributing to local good causes.”
Barhorst recalled Inforzato being present for the toast that opened Sidney’s Bicentennial on February 12, 2020. He then welcomed Nemoto, presenting him with gifts from Sidney.
“It is the people at the grassroots level of our cities and villages that make our country so very special,” Barhorst said as he concluded his remarks. “It’s everyday Japanese and American citizens who, over the years, who have contributed so much to building a strong foundation for our Japan – U.S. relationship.”
“On behalf of Gov. DeWine and his administration, JobsOhio CEO Nauseef and his team, and my colleagues from across Ohio, I welcome you,” Barhorst said in welcoming Nemoto, “and most importantly, I look forward to working with you!”
Nemoto had previous overseas assignments in Houston, Texas office, Bangkok, Thailand and Johannesburg, South Africa. JETRO is a government-related organization that works to promote mutual trade and investment between Japan and the rest of the world.
Originally established in 1958 to promote Japanese exports abroad, JETRO’s core focus in the 21st century has shifted toward promoting foreign direct investment into Japan and helping small to medium size Japanese firms maximize their global export potential.
In addition to Barhorst, Inforzato and Nemoto, also speaking at the reception were Hiroshi Tajima, Consul-General of Japan in Chicago, Mitsukini Baba, representing the Japan-America Society of Chicago, Theresa Kulczak, representing the Japan-America Society of Minnesota, Rio Saito, representing the Japan-America Society of Indiana, and Alex Kaneko, Senior Business Consultant for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.
The reception was held at the University of Chicago’s Gleacher Center. Inforzato is a graduate of the University of Chicago.